Honesty Moment: I didn't like self care until this year. I have been in the game of consulting in healthy holistic lifestyles as a Holistic Nutritionist for 7 years - and it wasn't until
that I realized I wasn't taking good enough care of myself, first.
Pro Insight: When 'practice what you preach' slaps you in the face (really hard) it might get awkward.
Luckily, I'm open to owning my mistakes and taking responsibility (as per the nutrition culture here that also happens to spill into personal life) and so: I here openly admit, I hated self-care.
But then in the summer of last year, I burned out. More awkward, since I had just published this blog about stress a month beforehand. I had taken myself to the hospital twice, because I was 100% convinced the situation at hand was life-threatening. It wasn't. But in the moment it was so real. I had panic attacks before, but they got worse and more often. Shortness of breath, squeezing gut, extremities tingly, heart racing, body trembling that lasted 15-60 minutes (sometimes with no notice or 'trigger.’)
I wasn't eating well or exercising much at all and I felt very stressed all of the time. I would clean my house in a frenzy just to distract me from the real issue. I wanted to just run away from my anxiety; but since it's all in your head there's nowhere to run to.
I worried about everything. It got me nowhere - and I burned out hard. This year, I had big goals in mind for myself.
Demand of myself to learn and master the art of self care.
Learn self-care as ritual.
Every week, do 1 big thing that terrified me.
These goals were two-fold: they were meant to force me to learn to rest, deeply. The last one was for my anxiety.
I had tried everything, except medication. I knew it wasn't for me and I was determined to solve my anxiety problem without resorting to drugs. Medication has a special purpose and I would never ask a client to come off of their med's. I just knew that I needed to solve this on my own and that for me personally and my story, medications' without first trying everything else wasn't an option. I told myself the only way I would get medicated for my anxiety was if it interfered with my work and I could no longer do what I do for clients now.
That was enough motivation to really get going on it.
This year I took about 4 weeks off. The longest time off I've ever taken. I started on my list for myself. What would terrify me, in an (anxious?) attempt to drive the anxiety out of me? The thought is, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em? I figure if my nervous system is overloaded, then what's more overload for it only to discover that it didn't kill me. That I survived it. That I am strong enough to overcome. Here's a few on my list:
sat on a 19-seater airplane and flew to Victoria BC, panicking the entire way
ate FISH at a roadside diner on the outskirts of a small town
ate buffalo, wild boar and venison at a fondue restaurant in Banff, AB
went barefoot around a campfire at Idleback Lake
All of these choices & experiences seem really simple to those who don't understand anxiety, you might look at this list and be unimpressed. But all these little choices would be ones that would have caused me massive anxiety in the past. A plane ride means risk of a crash & dying, eating diner roadside fish and new meats (new to my body) means risk of food poisoning, barefoot in the woods is risk of ticks and Lyme disease. But when you struggle with an overloaded nervous system, the simplest things are scary. There's never any positive ending to where your head takes you when you are going down the train of anxiety. It always ends in the worst case scenario. For me, it was death. That was always the end of the terrifying story created in my head.
What does all this have to do with your self-care?
Well, most clients come to me as their last resort. They are fed up with feeling crappy and making excuses about not putting nutrition as a higher priority. I love helping my clients, but I'd also love doing some preventative work. So here it is. If you learn to deeply rest, you can prevent all sorts of issues, especially anxiety. (If you're already dealing with anxiety, I can create you a tailored nutrition plan to help you with digestion and your blood sugar's - 2 key issues with anxiety and help coach you on lifestyle choices to also support balancing anxiety in your life.) I know how it feels.
5 Self-Care Rituals You Need in your Life Right Now:
Daily exercise has been crucial in maintaining a healthy balance for me and my anxiety. Anxiety attacks are a release of hormones that make you feel panicky and give you those 'fight or flight' abilities. So, flight. Run, walk, give those chemicals a run for their money and start noticing that the number of attacks you have lessens. Make exercise a serious priority in your life. If you're having anxiety in a place where you can't leave to go for a quick run or walk simply imagine you're doing it. Just in your head, visualize yourself running and running. It helps - trust me. Your mind is a powerful thing.
I always loved baths but when I knew I needed to learn to rest deeply, I took baths to another level. Music was always a part of baths. But now it became really relaxing music (like this or this) instead of my typical rock n' roll. Focusing on your breath and your body parts brings your nervous system RIGHT down. Including incense or candles also elevates baths from just 'getting clean' to a beautiful ritual that you should partake in at least once a week. Also include a moment of gratitude that we have the ability here to fill a bath tub with (clean!) water and sit in it. Realize how lucky you are!
Vitamin D is one of the nutrients that affects our moods - and most of us are deficient in it. Vitamin D is unique because it can be made in the skin from exposure to sunlight. Free supplements? Yes please! In the Okanagan summer it's easy to get enough Vitamin D - just get your arms or face exposed to the sun for at least 10 minutes a day. It's hard to get enough Vitamin D through food alone, but eating more fish like salmon, mackerel and herring is a good source. Vitamin D is fat soluble and therefore requires some dietary fat in the gut for absorption - another reason to eat good fats and NOT cut fat out of your diet. Here's a way to light therapy yourself in the winter time, if you know you get depressed when there is NO sun.
Meditation is now a daily requirement for me. As a yoga teacher I knew that meditation was important, but I never had my own daily practice until 2017. It is now engrained in my daily routine and I feel when I miss it. The key is to allow the initial weirdness to run its course. When you first begin meditating, you feel like it's pointless, like you can't shut your brain off. You'll think "I'm no good at this." And guess what? You can't ever shut your brain off. The whole point is to notice how busy your mind is - and focus again on your breath. It's not about turning your brain off - it's learning to harness + control your most important tool: that great big 'ol noggin' of yours. I used Insight Timer on my smartPhone to get myself in the daily habit and now it just happens easily. Meditation is not only incredibly powerful for anxiety, it's also a way to make nutrition changes easier.
5. Vitamin L
According to Dr. Elson Haas, one of the most important nutrients for optimum health is a daily (or more) dose of love. In his book "Staying Healthy with Nutrition" Dr Haas states that Vitamin L is found readily in grandparents, moms and dad's, siblings and in the flowers, trees, plants and in home-cooked food that is cooked consciously with a heaping handful of it. It's digested and absorbed easily and used by the body in its pure state - which makes it unique among all the other vitamins. I'm all for getting your share of Vitamin L however you feel fit - just make sure you find it in some way every day. Daily hugs are a good maintenance, but 3 a day or more is best for growth.
Finding a way to get self-care as ritual into my life was a struggle, I admit.
It's something you have to make time for. There's never the "when I get time...." excuse when it comes to reality. We have to stretch and create time for things that are important. Treat your own self-care as if you were caring for someone else, you don't 'get time' for it, you just make it work because you have to. For those of you dealing with anxiety, know this: in my experience, you may never "heal" or fix yourself of this but you can learn to transform it and bend it in to your new reality. Accept it as a sign that you need to rest, even when it feels like you can't. Accept the challenge to learn to rest properly. Change your perception and see your anxiety as your bodies' way of asking for deep rest. Try some of the above self-care options that I partake in, and see what happens when you start embracing relaxation, instead of pushing it away.
Read more lifestyle tools for anxiety here [7 Food & Lifestyle Shifts to Calm Your Anxiety] and the top supplements I use (in conjunction with healthy food + lifestyle changes) for anxiety [Top 5 Supplements for Calming Anxiety.]